Russia Sells Lethal Fighter Jets to the United Arab Emirates
The two countries also plan to work together on a new warplane
by DAVE MAJUMDAR
The United Arab Emirates has agreed to purchase a batch of advanced Sukhoi Su-35 Flanker-E fighters from Russia. As of 2017, the Flanker-E is the most capable operational Russian combat aircraft.
The jets would be a major addition to the UAE’s already formidable fleet of American-made Lockheed Martin F-16E/F Block 60 Fighting Falcons. But troubling for the United States, the deal is an indication that the UAE — a long-time U.S. ally — is drifting into Moscow’s orbit.
“We signed an agreement of intent for the purchase of the Su-35,” Rostec chief Sergei Chemezov told the Moscow-based TASS news agency earlier in February 2017.
Chemezov did not offer any details about how many Su-35s the UAE has ordered or when Sukhoi would begin delivering the aircraft. The two countries also recently signed an agreement to co-develop a new fifth-generation fighter.
The Su-35 is a lethal fighter in its own right. As an air-superiority fighter, its major advantages are a combination of high altitude capability and blistering speed, which allows the fighter to impart the maximum possible amount of launch energy to its arsenal of long-range air-to-air missiles.
The aircraft would be launching its weapons from high supersonic speeds around Mach 1.5 at altitudes greater than 45,000 feet. This means the missiles could reach with their targets faster, giving opponents less time to maneuver or respond in kind.
On top of that, the Flanker-E builds on an existing, potent airframe, which in many respects already exceeded the aerodynamic performance of similarly sized aircraft, such as the Boeing F-15 Eagle. The Su-35 adds a lighter structure, three-dimensional thrust vectoring, advanced avionics and a powerful jamming capability to a proven design.
“Large powerful engines, the ability to supercruise for a long time and very good avionics make this a tough platform on paper,” one highly experienced F-22 stealth fighter pilot told me some time ago. “It’s considered a fourth gen plus-plus, as in it has more inherent capability on the aircraft.”
“It possesses a passive [electronically-scanned array and it] has a big off boresight capability and a very good jamming suite.”
In addition to its fast-scanning radar, ability to shoot missiles in a multitude of directions and defensive countermeasures, the Flanker-E carries a long-range infrared search and track capability that could pose a problem for Western fighters. “It also has non-EM [electro-magnetic] sensors to help it detect other aircraft, which could be useful in long-range detection,” a Super Hornet pilot told me.
Overall, the Su-35 is an extremely formidable machine — and the Russians are starting to have success with selling it abroad. The Chinese have already bought 24 examples, while Indonesia and Brazil are apparently interested in purchasing some number of aircraft, too.
The UAE’s purchase could point to more Middle East sales in the future. And a locally-developed — at least in part — stealthy fifth-generation jet could present a more practical alternative to Western offerings like F-35.